Sedona Monthly

Full disclosure--I have a soft spot for regional mags. As a strong believer in celebrating Americana, I always root for the home team. When it comes to the U S of A., the operative word is gestalt--the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But the parts, like the classified intelligence on WMDs, bear closer inspection.

This week, I turn my attention to the West. It's a natural affinity. My people are desert people; which explains why Jews gravitate to California and Florida. The former is like ancient Israel--scenic buttes, gorgeous blue skies and a knack for staging impressive events. Florida has sand and sun--and as my grandmother would have said, "It's enough. Everything has to be a big production?"

It's a fair question, because Sedona Monthly, billed as "Arizona's magazine with great views," has pulled out all the stops--distribution-wise. Though the population of Sedona is small--approximately 10,200--its potential reach and tourist appeal is big.

Sedona Monthly, sold in select bookstores nationwide, is gratis at Delta and US Airways shuttle flights in the East and certain US Airways flights to Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Chicago. That's where I found it--at LaGuardia Airport--and once airborne, as the lights of Passaic twinkled below--was it an illusion or did they spell out "Rescue Me"?--I soaked up the red-rock majesty of Sedona. And it's enticing. Sedona Monthly is a pleasant and pretty traveling companion.

"Our Favorite Hikes" boasts exquisite, breathtaking views. It's easy to see why spiritual revelations often happen in the desert. I don't see Moses having a chitchat with God during rush hour. Getting the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai--super moving. The natural effects--never mind the divine ones--are Oscar-worthy. Getting a profound cosmic message in Times Square? Lunacy. I give you the 105-year-old man on the corner of Broadway and West 45th whose sandwich board screams: "The End of the World Is Near." Old news. That was clear the day they canceled "The Patty Duke Show."

The point, however, remains: Nature is powerful, and so are the indigenous cultures that employ its wisdom. "Healing Hands" profiles West Sedona's Ringing Rock Foundation, which awards grants to the Navajo, Lakota, Zulu Samurai, Balian and Bushmen healers. The goal is to document their rituals and home remedies before they disappear.

Not surprisingly, Sedona's physical charms have also found their way into Hollywood lore. Several Westerns have been shot in its rustic splendor, including the 1947 blockbuster "California," starring Barbara Stanwyck and Ray Milland. Staged on Schnebly Hill, the film's 24-karat scene takes up just 54 seconds of screen time, but its sweeping panorama is iconic, including 100+ covered wagons and hundreds of extras, many of them local residents. "Sedona Gone Hollywood" is almost as long as the movie, but the stills are terrific, and any Western buff will love the production details.

In the film, after taking Milland's last dollar in poker, Stanwyck flings some change at him for "burying money." He follows, kissing her violently. Paging Dr. Freud! Undaunted, she swears she'll pull him off his high horse someday. Don't you love the imagery--and the double entendre?

Today, unlike 1848 California, shame is passe--consider Fox and OJ, who should be trampled under the heels of a thousand mustangs--if he did it--which according to the California civil courts, he did. To be fair, he can have a three-minute head start, putting his NFL training to good use.

If he can outrun the stallions, he can enjoy Sedona's haute hotel cuisine--which gets top cover billing. Now, gourmet food is usually served sitting down; here, the movable feast--at least the dessert course--is served in the mesa, our cover girl balanced on one leg, left buttock thrust suggestively. Maybe it's me, but I like chairs.

The inside spread, though, is detailed and delicious. What, I wonder, would Wyatt Earp make of Sedona today--L'Auberge restaurant flies in fish daily from Hawaii. My guess? He'd be envious. There is also venison, rabbit and buffalo on the menu, guaranteed to make the most macho of honchos happy. But hands down, the best shot in the cuisine section is chef Jonathan Gelman, standing in Oak Creek, water up to his knees, holding a large fish on a plate. I know he prepares the entrees. Is he expected to catch them, too?

Sedona Monthly is a cheerleader for the area--and there is much to trumpet: the fancy spas, jazz-on-the-rocks concerts, the trails. Sedona even got its 15 minutes of fame: a Borat moment. For one of his "cultural learnings of America," he visited a local center to get in touch with his spirituality. Word is, he ended up under a sheet pretending to touch something else--and the owners called the police.

In fairness, everyone needs to kick back once in a while. Borat has the right idea--westward, ho.

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